In our Composer Spaces series, we ask composers to share a bit about their working environment and to give us a brief insight into their process. This week we present composer, Gillian Whitehead.

What does a typical composing day look like for you?

Breakfast, or coffee, then start work. Work until I run out of steam, have lunch, maybe go for a walk or read, then work in shorter and shorter bursts (composing, emails, phoning, whatever). That’s the pattern most workdays. I try to keep workdays free of other engagements until the evening, otherwise, I keep clockwatching and can’t focus properly.

Please describe the space where you compose your music.

I’ve two places – one in Northland, one of the Otago peninsula where I am at present. It’s a studio I had built, separated from the house by a deck, with views across the harbour and of trees; the place was a paddock when I came here 25 years ago.

Composer spaces | Gillian Whitehead-2

What equipment (including software) do you have in your space?

Computer, keyboard, pencils, erasers, manuscript paper, books. Nothing special – what’s special is outside the windows – trees, birds, passing boats.

Please describe your typical composing process, does it change with each piece?

When I have an idea or two for the beginning of a piece, I play with it for a while, until it (hopefully) makes some sense. I tend now (as opposed to previously when I had a ‘blueprint’ of the whole from the outset) to work it over and over, until it feels right, with the right trajectory for the scale of the piece. It becomes the beginning of a piece rather than abstract play almost without my noticing, and from there it continues, but I keep returning to scan from the opening, until, at some point, there’s nothing more I want to do. Working with a text is a bit different, though.

What are you currently working on in your space?

I’ve just finished a short string quartet for the APO’s Beethoven 250 Celebrations in March. It will be played in the Concert Chamber on Monday 23rd March at 6 p.m. by a Young Achievers quartet.

Now I’m returning to a half-written staged monodrama for baritone and ensemble on a World War 1 theme which has performances planned in NZ and the USA.

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